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A Beginner’s Guide to Horse Racing Betting

People have been betting on horse races for hundreds of years, if not longer, and it can be an incredibly enjoyable pastime. A huge number of horse races take place around the world, so there are always plenty of betting opportunities, and these give fans many chances to place winning bets.  

In this guide, we will examine all that you need to know to start betting on horse races. We will explain the different types of bets, how you should use them, and look at the kind of research you should be carrying out before placing a bet. Hopefully, by taking it all into account, you will soon be placing numerous successful bets.  

Popular Horse Racing Bets 

When you go to bet on a horse race, you have far more options than just picking a winner. There are a number of different types of bets, and it is important that you fully understand them all if you are to give yourself the best chances of success. In general, horseracing bets are split into Straight and Exotic bets. Here is an explanation of the most common types. 

Straight Bets 

These are all bets on a single horse. 

  • Win – This is a bet on a particular horse to win a race. If it does, then you win the bet. 
  • Place – This is a bet on a horse to come in first or second place. If the horse does, then you win. The odds on these bets will be less generous than a Win bet, but it gives you a greater chance of winning.  
  • Show – This is a bet on a horse to finish in first, second or third place. Similar to the Place bet, the odds will be shorter, but there chances of winning are greater.  
  • Across the Board – This is a bet on a horse to win, place and show. It is called a “combo straight wager” as it is three different bets combined into one (win, place and show). Because it is a combination of three bets, it is more expensive than placing a simple win, place or show bet. For example, a €1 across the board bet will cost €3 as you are making three €1 bets. If the horse then wins, then you win all three bets, if the horse comes second you win the place and show bets, and if the horse comes third, then you win the show bet.  
  • Win/Place Place/Show – Just like the across the board bet, this is a combination of multiple bets into one. If you place a Win/Place bet, then you are betting on the horse to win and place. If the horse wins then you win both of the bets, if the horse finishes second then you win the place bet. Similarly, in the Place/Show bet you are betting on your horse to place and show. If the horse finishes second then you win both bets and if it finishes third then you win the show bet.  

Exotic Bets  

These bets give you the chance to bet on multiple horses in one bet, potentially increasing your winnings. However, these bets are harder to win than straight bets (which is why they offer greater returns).  

  • Exacta – This is a bet on two horses to finish in first and second, with the order specified. For example, you could place an exacta bet on horses 2 and 4, and you would then win if horse 2 won and horse 4 finished in second place. These bets are very popular amongst advanced bettors as they offer very large returns. It is also possible to “box” an exacta bet, which means that the two horses can finish in any order and you will still win. However, boxing an exacta bet doubles the cost of the bet, and it is important to keep this in mind.  
  • Quinella – This is a bet on two horses to come in first and second in any order. As long as the two horses finish in the top two spots, you will win. This is very similar to a boxed exacta bet; however, there is an important difference. A €1 quinella bet costs €1 while a €1 box exacta bet costs €2. On the other hand, a box exacta bet will usually offer greater returns than a quinella bet, so it is up to you to find the appropriate balance for your budget.  
  • Trifecta – This is a bet on three horses to finish in first, second and third, with the order specified. For instance, if you placed a trifecta bet on horses 1, 3 and 6 then you will only win if horse 1 wins the race, horse 3 comes in second and horse 6 comes in third. It is also possible to box a trifecta bet, so that you will win regardless of the order the horses finish in. However, this greatly increases the cost of the bet as there are so many possible combinations. In fact, it makes the bet six times more expensive.  
  • Superfecta – This is a bet on four horses to finish first, second, third and fourth with the order specified. Just as with exacta and trifecta bets, it is possible to box the bet for an additional cost. However, boxed superfecta bets often have very low minimum bets, which can make them very attractive.  
  • Daily Double – This bet requires you to pick the winners of two consecutive races. It is usually offered on the first two races of a day or the last two.  
  • Pick 3 – This is very similar to the daily double bets, but it requires you to pick the winners of three consecutive races.  

What to Consider when Betting on Horse Racing 

The Horses 

This may sound obvious, but it really is important to do some background research on the horses in a race. Here are some points to consider: 

  • Last Time Out Winners – This phrase is used to refer to horses who won their last race. It is not unusual for in-form horses to have streaks of 2 to 3 wins in 5 races. Therefore, it is always good to look at how a horse has been performing.  
  • Good Rating Figures – Keep an eye out for horses that have set personal bests in their last races, as it is a good indication that they are in form.  
  • Race Comments – Look at what commentators have been saying about horses in their recent races. If they received a positive review, then it is a very good sign.  
  • Change in Class – Trainers often like to put weaker horses in ‘higher’ class races. Therefore, it is important to check the class of a race and the horses racing in it. Furthermore, you may come across instances of horses being dropped a class, and they may be worth a close look.  
  • The Company – This refers to the other horses participating in a race and it is essential to do research all of them.  
  • Bouncing Back – While it is logical to look for horses that have been in good form, those looking for really long odds will want to keep an eye out for horses that have been running badly but show signs of being ready for a big race, possibly because of a change in conditions, or because the horse has had time to rest.  

Understand the Surfaces 

Some horses will respond better to wet or dry courses. A dry course, which is called ‘firm’ or ‘good to firm’, will produce faster speeds and suit the horses that are lighter on their feet. A wet course, which will have softer turf, will suit the horses that hit the ground hard and are able to sprint faster by gripping into the ground.  

This means that when betting on a horse, it is important to look at how the horse has performed on different surfaces in the past and the conditions on the race day. It can truly make a huge different to a race. 


It is not just the horses that are important, but also the trainer behind it. Some trainers have particularly impressive records at particular tracks and some are well known for preparing horses to run particular courses. Have a look at previous winners at a course and who has trained them. You will most likely begin to see some patterns and the most successful trainers may enter multiple horses into a single race. If you use a tipping guide then it will contain a trainer’s record at a course. The more you can look at the better, as you should begin to spot trends. For instance, each year a trainer may use a particular race to unveil their newest talents. Similarly, you may notice that a particular trainer has a very poor record at a venue, which tells you who not to back.  


The final component is the jockey. Just as some trainers may enjoy success at particular courses, so too will some jockeys. For example, Ryan Moore is known for his success at Ascot. This is not only because the jockey may be particularly talented, but also because the trainers are likely to give their best horses to the best jockeys. It is important to study the jockey and trainer combinations. If a trainer has entered multiple horses into a race, then knowing which jockey is the best will give you a good idea of which horse is considered the strongest.  

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